9 films to see at Dubai International Film Festival

9. El Clasico
When: Wednesday, December 9, 8pm
Where: The Beach
What: Norwegian-Kurdish director Halkawt Mustafa’s feature is all about little people dreaming big. It charts the story of two brothers, Alan and Shirwan, and how the fierce rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid acts a backdrop to the struggles – economic, social, romantic – faced by dwarves in their community.
Screens again on Monday, December 11, 6.15pm at Vox, Mall of the Emirates

8. The Idol
When: Friday, December 11, 7.30pm
Where: The Beach
What: The latest film from two-time Oscar-nominated director Hany Abu Assad leaves behind the wry, black comedy of previous work – Divine Intervention, Omar – for the more uplifting tale of Mohammad Assaf, the Palestinian singer who won TV talent contest Arab Idol in 2013. There is, though, plenty of real-world grit as Abu Assad lays bare the horrors of life in Gaza.
Screens again on Saturday, December 12, 9.30pm at Vox, Mall of the Emirates

7. Room
When: Thursday, December 10, 10pm
Where: Madinat Jumeirah Theatre
What: A story of emotional and physical survival adapted from Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel, Room follows the five-year-old Jack and his mother, who are being held captive in a shed. It is only world Jack has ever known until they plot their escape and see the world that lies beyond it. Unsettling, beguiling and bursting with brilliantly nuanced performances, the Oscar buzz is definitely growing – and much deserved. Its gala screening on the festival’s first Wednesday is a fitting way to open DIFF 2015.

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6. Abdullah
When: Friday, December 11, 5.45pm
Where: VOX, Mall of the Emirates
What: Marking the debut of 31-year-old Abu Dhabi director Humaid Al Suwaidi, a graduate of New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, Abdullah tells the story of a young man who tries to conceal his love of music in an extremely conservative religious household. Beautiful shot around the UAE, and with plenty of tragi-comedy, this is a genuine landmark in UAE cinema.
Screens again on Tuesday, December 15, 10.15pm at Vox, Mall of the Emirates

4. Lady in the Van
When: Sunday, December 13, 7pm
Where: The Beach
What: Alan Bennett’s engaging true story, which first saw the light of day in 1989, focuses on his odd yet somehow increasingly affectionate relationship with a homeless woman who lived in a small van parked outside his house on an otherwise genteel North London street. On screen, the lady in the van is brought to life by the unstoppable Maggie Smith – who probably didn’t even need to rehearse for the role of the comically cantankerous neighbour.
Screens again on Tuesday, December 15, 7pm at Vox, Mall of the Emirates

3. Yallah Underground
When: Friday, December 11, 6.30pm
Where: Vox, Mall of the Emirates
What: Independent music from the Arab orld started to gain international traction about eight years ago when the likes of Lebanon’s Soap Kills and Scrambled Eggs caught the ear of people beyond each other’s bedrooms. What followed between 2009 and 2013 was a loose but important scene across Beirut, Cairo, Amman, and Ramallah in which bands picked up guitars and delivered electric live sets to engaged, enthusiastic audiences. The documentary Yallah Underground, directed by Farid Eslam, looks the high point of alternative music in the region.
Screens again on Tuesday, December 15, 7pm at The Beach

2. Zinzana
When: Thursday, December 10, 6pm
Where: Madinat Arena
What: Already getting some love from film festivals around the world, including London BFI, Zinzana is an Image Nation film by Emirati filmmaker Majid Al Ansari. Set in a Jordanian prison cell and starring established Palestinian actor Ali Suliman, it is a psychological thriller with echoes of Sidney Lumet as the plot focuses around a man (Saleh Bakri) with no ID who is prey to a brutal Suliman’s brutal police officer.
Screens again on Saturday, December 12, 10pm, at Vox, Mall of the Emirates

1. Brooklyn
When: Friday, December 11, 9.15pm
Where: Vox, Mall of the Emirates
What: Tens of thousands of Irishmen and women set sail for America during the 20th century, pushed by the lack of opportunity at home and drawn by the seeming endless possibility of the States. Based on the highly acclaimed novel by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn follows one young migrant, Ellis Lacy, as she wrestles between a future that lies ahead and the family she’s leaving behind. As an Irishwoman born in New York, Saoirse Ronan explains to ShortList why she had a special affinity with the plot, which is why she was desperate to play the role.
Screens again on Wednesday, December 16, 5.45pm at Vox, Mall of the Emirates

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